History in the Forres area

Forres and the surrounding area is steeped in history, and perhaps the most mysterious is the hill fort on the top of Cluny Hill, indicating that people settled here thousands of years ago.

Royal Burgh

Forres – Royal Burgh
Forres – Royal Burgh

It has been recorded that Forres had its own Royal Castle originally built in 900AD, possibly from the time of Kenneth McAlpine the first king of united Scotland.

After William I became King of Scotland in 1165, the castle at Forres served as a hunting lodge for royalty. Today the mound on which the castle was built is still there, but unfortunately over the years, the remains of the castle have all been removed.

Forres became one of the first Royal Burghs of Scotland in 1153, but apparently this was lost in 1312. However, a charter of 1496 restored royal burgh status, until they were abolished in 1975.


The town has links with King Macbeth. Before he became king of Scotland he fought Duncan near Pitgaveny where Duncan was killed on 10 August 1040. Macbeth was immediately crowned at Scone to legitimise his position and he ruled over Moray from his castle in Forres. Originally built at the west end of Forres high street the castle no longer remains but the area still bears the name ‘Castlehill’.

Sueno’s Stone

Sueno's Stone, Forres
Sueno’s Stone

The town’s most notable ancient landmark is the monolithic Sueno’s Stone at the east end.

Carved with illustrious detail which has succumbed to the weather, the single slab is now encased on a glass shelter to protect it from the elements. At 21 feet, it is the tallest Pictish carved stone in the UK.

It probably dates from around 980AD. Many theories abound as to what the carved scene depicts but the most probable is that it shows a defeat of the men of Moray by Gaelicised Picts from the south.

The runes carved on the stone still mystify scholars today, one side is carved with a large ring-headed cross, the other side is divided into four panels depicting what appears to be a large but unknown battle scene which could possibly have been fought nearby.

Mercat Cross

Forres Mercat Cross
The Mercat Cross is undergoing restoration.

The Mercat Cross is a common sight in Scotland’s town centres, but Forres’s cross is something to celebrate.

An elaborate, pinnacles structure, it has taken pride of place in the middle of the high street since 1844, it was modelled on the Sir Walter Scott Memorial in Edinburgh, albeit a much smaller version. The cross has crumbled over the years, and is now being restored.

Falconer Museum

Falconer Museum, Forres
Falconer Museum, Forres

The Falconer Museum was built from a bequest by Alexander and Hugh Falconer to house a large collection of fossils. It was named after Hugh in the 19th century.

He was a distinguished geologist, botanist, palaeontologist and paleoanthropologist and spent much of his life studying the geology, plant and animal life of India, Assam and Burma.

The museum is currently closed due to funding cuts by Moray Council.

Click here to view The Falconer Museum website.

Nelson’s Tower

Nelson’s Tower overlooks the town

Situated at the top of Cluny Hill with spectacular views across Forres and Findhorn Bay, Nelson’s Tower was built by Charles Stewart in 1806 to commemorate Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson success at the Battle of Trafalgar .

It is the culmination of a leafy walk through Grant Park and Cluny Woods. Clear signposts and a network of paths will take you to the top.

It is rather a steep climb so not suitable for those with mobility issues and the view on a clear day is well worth it. When you get to the tower you will be able to climb the 96 steps to the viewing platform on the roof (when open).

Open to the public from the beginning of April to the end of September between 2-4pm and manned by volunteers. Th walk to the tower is worth the effort, but if you want to climb the tower, look out for the red ensign, which will be flying from the tower and can be seen from the town when open.

There is free parking at Grant Park and entry is by donation.

The Tolbooth

Forres Tolbooth

The Tolbooth in Forres is an impressive landmark situated in the centre of town in the high street. There has been a building on this site for some 800 years, however, the current building dates back to 1838.

The Tolbooth has an opulent court room, now disused and served as council offices for many years. Behind the court room is a jail house which has six cells.

There are plans to open the clock tower to the public in 2021. This is accessed through a winding staircase that opens out onto a parapet giving spectacular views over the town.

The first record referring to the Tolbooth is a proclamation made in 1586 and then in 1588. The records show that in 1619 it was being used “for sure keiping and deteining” evil-doers and prisoners. In 1655 the Tolbooth is a “thackit” ruinous building that cannot carry the roof until the walls are repaired. Between 1671 and 1677 much masonry has been repaired and new structures added to form a three storey building. By 1698 an agreement for major rebuilding work had been drawn up and “£333 1s 8d” had been provided by the merchants and burgesses for the project.

See the Forres Heritage Trust website, which has more detail of the Tolbooth and Nelson’s Tower.

Leave a comment